free-range thinking · april 2001
If persuading an audience is part of your job, a new course at Quinnipiac University School of Law has valuable insights for you.
At Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, three law professors have created a course that is breaking new ground in legal education. Entitled "Visual Persuasion in the Law," the course teaches law students how to supplement their oral arguments with visual elements to make a more compelling case. "Our culture is increasingly visual," says Neal Feigenson, a co-creator of the course and author of the book, Legal Blame: How Jurors Think and Talk About Accidents. "Not coincidentally, visual communication is playing a larger and larger role in the courtroom."
But this isn't merely a series of lessons about creating more colorful charts or holding up bloodstained gloves in just the right way. Feigenson and his colleagues, Richard Sherwin and Christina Spiesel, recognize that much of the common sense and shared knowledge found in a jury box today comes from television and movies. Consequently, they believe their students will communicate more effectively once they understand how popular storytelling and iconography work in a media-saturated world. Talking with Feigenson earlier this year, I heard several pieces of advice that would benefit anyone who must make a case to a larger audience, beginning with:
One picture is worth the thousand
words you can't say.
In Visual Persuasion: The Role of Images in Advertising, author Paul Messaris explains how this same technique is used in environmental ads. A picture of a clearcut forest, for example, will appeal to the reader's aesthetic sensibility without having to explicitly say, "Gosh, doesn't this look terrible." As Messaris points out, "These are messages that an environmental advocate might be reluctant to put into words. They seem too vulnerable on grounds of superficiality or elitism. But because of the open-ended, implicit nature of meaning in visual syntax, equivalent messages can be expressed with much greater impunity through images." In short: when you're in sensitive territory, don't say it, display it.
It's what you say and
how you say it.
Everyone needs a "theory of
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert
Visual Persuasion: The Role of Images in Advertising,
by Paul Messaris
Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human
Brain, by Dr. Antonio Damasio
A Better Way to Vote
After debating whether or not to go forward with a new fundraising plan, the directors of a public interest group vote 9 to 1 to approve. When the development director seeks help implementing the new fund drive, however, almost all of the directors bail out. What went wrong? The disconnect can frequently be traced to the voting process, because simple yes-or-no votes do not tease out concerns which may be lurking in the background. So let's try that vote again, but this time we'll give the directors more choices. Using "gradients of agreement" (a process I discovered in Sam Kaner's excellent book, Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making), here's what that same vote might look like:
Now it's evident that only 1 director whole-heartedly supported the plan while 9 others had doubts or outright opposed it. Given this result, the group would undoubtedly have continued discussion until a more satisfactory plan was designed. Holding a preliminary, non-binding vote with gradients of agreement is an excellent way to discover what people are thinking as you work to build consensus.